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August 25th, 2008:

Blue Skies for Beijing

Blue Skies for Beijing Need Marathon Plan That May Slow Economy

By Lee Spears

Aug. 25 (Bloomberg) — Zhang Guoqing says the air quality in Beijing is better since the government clamped down on tailpipes, smokestacks and construction cranes for the Olympics.

“The traffic condition became less crowded and the air quality also improved,” Zhang, 58, said while watching ice skaters at the China World Trade Center. “I don’t want the government to stop those measures.”

Beijing officials say the city experienced its best air quality in 10 years this month after authorities implemented odd- even driving days and shut down factories and building sites before the Aug. 8-24 games. More than half of 2,000 Beijingers surveyed said traffic control measures should continue after the games, state-run China Daily reported.

Yet they won’t get their wish. The world’s most populous nation needs to create 10 million new jobs a year to maintain economic growth and social stability, so business will return closer to usual once the upcoming Paralympics end Sept. 17.

“These temporary measures are meant to address the issue temporarily,” said Tao Dong, chief Asia economist at Credit Suisse Group AG in Hong Kong. “You can’t prohibit people from driving their cars. You’re going to have a riot.”

Slow Growth

China, the world’s No. 4 economy, may have lost as much as 3 percent of its estimated 4 trillion-yuan ($585.3 billion) gross domestic product by shutting down factories in Beijing and surrounding areas for two months, Tao said. Some factories, including Beijing Shougang Co., the nation’s fourth-biggest steelmaker, were evicted from the capital.

The affected regions generate about 26 percent of China’s economic output, so the world’s fastest-growing major economy will slow during the next two months, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said in an Aug. 8 report.

GDP growth has slowed for four straight quarters, prompting President Hu Jintao to say Aug. 1 that his priorities were maintaining steady, fast growth and controlling inflation.

There was such concern about Beijing’s air quality that International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge said some outdoor events could be postponed if necessary. World-record holder Haile Gebrselassie, an asthmatic, pulled out of the marathon because of the pollution and heat.

The city spent about $70 billion to improve air quality and build subways, sports stadiums and an airport terminal for the games. Chinese officials say the measures worked.

`Itchy Palms’

The average daily pollution index this month was about 31 percent lower than August 2007, the city’s environmental protection bureau said Saturday. Major air pollutants were an average 40 percent lower, with nitrogen oxide emissions from automobiles down 61 percent, the bureau said.

Even Gebrselassie said he noticed the change.

“I was here in February, I don’t see no blue sky,” he said. “To keep such clear air, that’s fantastic.”

Still, levels of particulates known as PM10 were up to double the World Health Organization’s recommended levels on some days. China’s pollution index doesn’t measure smaller particles called PM2.5, which can penetrate deeper into lungs and create greater risk for developing asthma and bronchitis.

Several riders in the 245-kilometer (152.2-mile) bicycle road race on Aug. 9 said they were affected by poor air quality.

“First few days when we went out, I was coughing a lot after,” said American George Hincapie, who finished 40th.

Even the archers suffered.

“I didn’t like the pollution,” bronze medalist Yun Ok-Hee of South Korea said. “My palms and hands were itchy.”

More Emissions

China’s release of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming is increasing more than previously forecast and will swamp pollution cuts planned by the U.K., Germany and other industrialized nations, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in May. It surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest emitter.

Air pollution-related illnesses and deaths may cost China an additional 3.8 percent of GDP, a World Bank report said. Beijing’s 15 million residents face higher incidences of asthma, respiratory infections and lung cancer, said Hans Troedsson, WHO’s representative in China.

“The government is taking measures in the right direction, but it needs to be scaled up,” Troedsson said.

For the games, the government said cars with license plates ending in odd numbers could drive only on odd-numbered days, and vice versa for even numbers. Beijing has about 3.3 million cars and adds about 300,000 a year.

Controls Continue

City officials said Saturday that normal traffic patterns would return next month.

“They should at least try to continue some of these measures,” said Ricardo Browne, 41, a Brazilian pilot working for Shenzhen Airlines Co. “It’s hard to see the sun.”

Steps are being taken. China will restrict factory discharges and may not let some polluters reopen, and last month it imposed cleaner fuel standards to reduce auto emissions. The government will double the tax on large vehicles to spur demand for more fuel-efficient cars.

“They are meaning business in terms of structural changes that will positively influence the climate and the environment,” Rogge said yesterday.

Beijing editor Zhou Min, 27, said she, like Zhang, wanted the driving restrictions to continue, even though it meant more crowded buses and subways.

I fully support the environment-friendly measures since the air quality has been improved, which puts me in a good mood,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lee Spears in Beijing at
Last Updated: August 24, 2008 17:01 EDT

Ship Pollution In Ports On Rise, Says Researchers

The Economic Times – 25 Aug, 2008, 0000 hrs IST, AGENCIES

Dirty smoke from ships cruising at sea and while running engines in port in order to generate electricity affects the air quality of coastal cities like Houston, according to researchers belonging to University of California. Scientists from the University of California at San Diego report that the impact of dirty smoke from ships burning high-sulfur fuel can be substantial, on some days accounting for nearly one-half of the fine, sulfur-rich particulate matter in the air known to be hazardous to human health.

Until now, air quality experts have been unable to quantify the specific contribution of ship smoke to the air pollution of coastal cities.

“Ships are really unregulated when it comes to air pollution standards. What we found was a surprise, because no one expected that the contribution from ships of solid sulfur-rich particles called primary sulfate would be so high,” said Mark Thiemens, dean of the division of physical sciences and a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the university at San Diego.

Primary sulfate, or SO4, is produced when ships burn a cheap, sulfur-rich fuel called “bunker oil.” Although more sulphur is typically found in other particles produced by ships, SO4 particulates are particularly harmful to humans because they are especially fine microscopic particles that can remain in the lungs. The tiny particles can also travel long distances.

The scientists developed a chemical fingerprinting technique that distinguished ship smoke primary sulfate from the tailpipe emissions of trucks, cars and other sources.

These techniques should help regulators in other states and countries monitor the impact of ships off their coasts as new restrictions on bunker oil burning by ships are implemented, the researchers said. International rules requiring clean-burning ship fuels are set to take effect in 2015.

“Because a large part of the world’s population live in major cities with shipping ports – such as Houston, New York City, San Francisco, Hong Kong and Singapore – and global shipping is expected to increase in the decades to come, this should help policy makers around the world make more informed decisions about improving the health of their citizens,” Mr Thiemens said.

Beijing – Now What Happens?

A capital question arises: now what happens?

Josephine Ma and Shi Jiangtao – SCMP – Updated on Aug 25, 2008

There is little doubt that the Olympic Games have transformed Beijing with glittering new rail links and magnificent venues, but time will tell what intangible legacies will remain.

Wang Yongchen, of Beijing-based Green Earth Volunteers, said the Games would help China conform to international practices, on which the country has set its eyes since its opening-up three decades ago.

“The world is watching,” she said. “It is at least a good opportunity for government officials and the public to know what exactly international standards and practices is supposed to mean.”

Despite China’s rapid incorporation into the global economy and an ever-increasing role worldwide, it has rarely, if ever, been exposed to so much intense scrutiny at the international level.

“Beijing has talked a lot about catching up with the best international practices and building a modern metropolis, but we seldom have the chance to listen to how the world sees us and what other people think of us,” Ms Wang said.

International monitoring and criticism will exert pressure on China and push it to adopt global standards, she and other analysts agreed.

“We had hoped to clean up the environment, but it is because of the enormous pressure to live up to promises for a green Olympics that the government has done so much to cut pollution,” Ms Wang said.

China had shut down 200 polluting factories and treated 90 per cent of Beijing city’s waste water, and introduced vehicle emission standards to 4,000 buses, the UN said.

“All these efforts will have a lasting impact because they have changed lives,” said Khalid Malik, the UN resident co-ordinator in China. “What we now want to make sure of is that the change will not go away and will be mirrored throughout China.”

Many Beijing residents also expressed doubt over whether the clear skies, clean air and improved traffic of the past weeks can last.

Local resident Li Wei, a 30-year-old civil servant, was amazed at the clear skies and less congested roads in Beijing. “It would be the best legacy of the Games for the city if they could continue, but we know it’s not really possible as those bans on private cars, building sites and polluting factories will have to be lifted as soon as the Games are over.”

Ms Wang said the UN Environmental Programme remained cautious about the Games’ long-term impact, saying an assessment would not be available for six months. “Lasting international attention will be essential to ensure a lasting legacy.”

However, many people regretted that officials had pinned their hopes of clearing Beijing’s smog-plagued air and notorious gridlocked roads on a flurry of last-minute contingency measures.

“It should have been a great opportunity to tackle problems at their roots, but the government is apparently more interested in staging a perfect show just for the Games,” said Zhang Yang, a teacher.

Observers say the Games has yet again showed Beijing’s ability to erect world-class venues and infrastructure with seemingly unbridled spending, but the challenges it faces in democracy and urban management were also laid bare.

Beijing opened three new subway lines and the Airport Express ahead of the Games, extending the total length of track from 142km to 200km and winning the praise of millions of commuters. Despite the brand new Hong Kong-style infrastructure, the lack of signs has confused travellers.

“Beijing … still has a long way to go to fill the gap between reality and people’s expectations,” said Mr Li.